Can you change tomato paste to sauce?


Tomato paste and tomato sauce are both made from tomatoes, but they have some key differences that affect how they can be used. Tomato paste is a thick, concentrated tomato product, while tomato sauce is a more liquid tomato preparation. While they are not directly interchangeable, there are some easy tricks for turning tomato paste into tomato sauce when needed for a recipe.

What is Tomato Paste?

Tomato paste is made from tomato puree that has been cooked down to remove excess water and concentrate the tomato flavor. The tomato solids are then strained out, leaving a thick, rich, and intensely tomatoey paste.

Tomato Paste Details
Consistency Very thick, spreads slowly
Color Deep red
Flavor Intense tomato flavor

Commercially prepared tomato paste contains around 24% tomato solids. It is commonly sold in small cans or tubes. The concentrated nature of tomato paste gives it a long shelf life of 12-18 months when unopened.

What is Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce has a thinner, more pourable consistency than tomato paste. It is made from tomato puree that has been lightly cooked to thicken it slightly. Chunks of tomato may be left in the sauce for texture. Tomato sauce can be seasoned with ingredients like onions, garlic, and herbs.

Tomato Sauce Details
Consistency Pourable, spoonable liquid
Color Reddish orange
Flavor Tomato flavor, may have added seasonings

The tomato solids content of tomato sauce can vary between 4-24%. Tomato sauce is sold canned or in jars and has a shelf life of 12-18 months when unopened.

Key Differences

There are a few main differences between tomato paste and tomato sauce:

  • Consistency – Tomato paste is very thick while tomato sauce is more liquid.
  • Concentration – Tomato paste is cooked down further, creating a more concentrated tomato flavor.
  • Solids – Tomato paste has a higher percentage of tomato solids than tomato sauce.
  • Seasoning – Tomato sauce often contains extra ingredients and seasoning.

These differences mean that tomato paste and sauce cannot be used interchangeably in recipes. However, you can make some adjustments to turn paste into sauce when needed.

Turning Tomato Paste into Sauce

If you need tomato sauce for a recipe but only have paste, here are some easy ways to turn it into sauce:

Dilute with Water

The simplest method is diluting the tomato paste with water. Add 1 part tomato paste to 2-3 parts water and mix until smooth and uniform. Adding a pinch of salt can help season the sauce.

For a 1 cup serving size of sauce, use:

  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 2/3 to 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

You can adjust the water to reach your desired consistency for sauce. Start with less water for a thicker sauce.

Dilute with Stock or Juice

For more flavor, you can dilute tomato paste with vegetable or chicken broth, tomato juice, or other liquid ingredients instead of plain water.

Try diluting with equal parts tomato paste and tomato juice or broth. Season with garlic, onion, herbs, etc.

Make Quick Tomato Sauce

To make a easy tomato sauce from paste:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in pan over medium heat.
  2. Add 2-3 cloves minced garlic and cook 30 secs.
  3. Add 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano.
  4. Pour in 1 cup tomato paste and 1 cup water or broth.
  5. Whisk well and simmer 5 mins until thickened.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.

This makes a quick, flavorful tomato sauce with the convenience of using tomato paste. Adjust herbs and seasonings to taste.

Make Slow-Simmered Tomato Sauce

For an even richer sauce with depth of flavor, make a slow-simmered tomato sauce starting with paste:

  1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in pan over medium heat.
  2. Cook 1 small diced onion until translucent, 3-4 mins.
  3. Add 3-4 cloves minced garlic and cook 30 secs.
  4. Add 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano.
  5. Stir in 1 cup tomato paste until heated through, 1-2 mins.
  6. Gradually pour in 1 cup water or broth, stirring constantly.
  7. Add pinch of sugar to balance acidity.
  8. Simmer sauce uncovered for 15-20 mins, until thickened.
  9. Season with salt and pepper.

The long simmering concentrates the flavors and creates a rich, thick sauce.

Tips for Converting Paste to Sauce

Here are some additional tips when turning tomato paste into tomato sauce:

  • Start with high-quality tomato paste for the best flavor.
  • Use olive oil or butter to sauté aromatics like onion and garlic first.
  • Season with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper to taste.
  • Can add a pinch of sugar to balance acidity.
  • Simmer the sauce to desired consistency.
  • Add water, broth, wine, or juice to reach right consistency.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

With these easy tricks, you can transform tomato paste into a tasty tomato sauce for any recipe. The sauce made from paste will have a deeper, more concentrated tomato flavor.

Tomato Sauce Substitute Options

If you don’t have any tomato paste on hand to turn into sauce, here are some tomato sauce substitute options:

Canned Tomato Sauce

Substitute an equal amount of plain canned tomato sauce. Go for crushed or diced tomatoes for a chunkier texture.

Canned Tomato Puree

Tomato puree is thicker than sauce but not as thick as paste. Use an equal amount or reduce puree over heat to thicken more.

Diced Fresh/Canned Tomatoes

Use fresh or canned diced tomatoes. For 1 cup sauce, sauté 1 cup diced tomatoes in olive oil until broken down.

Tomato Juice

In a pinch, substitute tomato juice thinned with a little water. Reduce over heat for a thicker sauce.

Jarred Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce is already seasoned with herbs and garlic. Use in equal amounts or reduce to thicken.

Storing Leftover Tomato Paste and Sauce

Here are some tips for storing tomato paste and sauce:

Tomato Paste

  • Store unopened tomato paste cans in cool, dry pantry for up to 18 months.
  • Once opened, transfer paste to airtight container and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
  • Can freeze paste for 6-8 months. Thaw overnight in fridge before using.

Tomato Sauce

  • Store unopened sauce jars/cans in cool, dry pantry for 12-18 months.
  • Refrigerate opened sauce in airtight container for up to 1 week.
  • Can freeze sauce for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in fridge before using.

Proper storage keeps tomato products fresh and flavorful. Refrigeration and freezing prevents mold growth.


While tomato paste and tomato sauce have distinct differences, tomato paste can easily be turned into tomato sauce with the addition of water or other liquid ingredients. Diluting and simmering tomato paste makes a flavorful sauce with the convenience of using up paste you have on hand. With the right techniques and seasonings, paste makes a tasty, thick, concentrated tomato sauce.

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